Wednesday after Advent IV - Luke 1:57-80 - December 23, 2015

Order of Matins (Pg. 32)
Hymn #540 With Lord Lord Begin Thy Task
Hymn #93 O Lord, We Welcome Thee
Hymn #62 O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Sermon on St. Luke 1:57-80

1)         Last week we considered the first song of the New Testament, Mary’s Magnificat. In the final verses of St. Luke’s first chapter we now consider the second song of the New Testament, the song of Zacharias, the Benedictus. The last time we heard about Zacharias was in the first verses of Luke’s Gospel. Gabriel had appeared to Zacharias beside the altar of incense in the Holy Place of the Jerusalem Temple. Gabriel delivered the news that Zacharias and Elizabeth would have a son whose name was to be John. John would go before the face of God and prepare a people for the Messiah’s arrival. Zacharias answered in unbelief and was struck dumb for considering his own human reason and understanding worth more than the word of the angel. After Gabriel left, Zacharias finished his rotation at the temple. Then he went home to the Levitical suburbs of Jerusalem in the Judean Hill Country. Elizabeth conceived. But for nine months Zacharias was dumb, his tongue hardened and immovable. Now we hear the promised son has been born and many rejoice with Elizabeth, not only in the birth of a son, but in joy that this child marks the arrival of the Messiah as well. When the eighth day arrives and the boy is set to be circumcised and named, his mother insists that the boy’s name is to be called John. Zacharias has been unable to speak his own words and voice his own opinion for nine months. He has been sufficiently humbled by the Lord and learned throughout this time that the only proper response to God’s Word is faith. He has was there when Mary visited Elizabeth in last week’s reading and has seen the angel’s words coming to fulfillment over the past months. Now the time comes to name the child. Zacharias takes a wax tablet and shows for his own belief in the angel’s words. “His name is John.” No dallying with the name. His name IS John.

2)         John the Baptist wouldn’t do a single miracle during his life. He would only preach with his mouth since he was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40:3). Since he would do no miracle during his life, the Lord wanted his conception and birth to be surrounded in miracles so that as he grew into manhood and began his ministry in the wilderness, people would take note of him and follow him. When Zechariah writes, His name is John, the final miracle of his birth takes place. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. Not only is his faculty of speech returned to him, but he is filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to praise God under that inspiration. Formerly he only spoke doubt and disbelief. Now the aged priest can only speak the praises of God Most High. It is as the Psalmist wrote in the fifty first Psalm, O Lord, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise (Psalm 51:15). The Lord opens Zacharias’ long closed mouth and pulls out His own praise. His words are most certainly praise but they are also prophesy. They are also words saturated with the words and promises of the Old Testament, for all praise should be nothing but speaking God’s words back to Him in belief and confidence.

3)         He begins, Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began. The Lord had a history of visiting His people with salvation. In Genesis 21, the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age. The Lord’s visitation was the fulfillment of His promise of a son to Abraham and a beginning of His promise to bless all nations through the Seed of Abraham, the Seed being Christ. The Lord tells Moses in Exodus 3:16-17, I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt. That visitation of the Lord resulted in the Ten Plagues upon Pharaoh and the Exodus from Egypt. During the life of Christ He would weep over Jerusalem because she did not know the time of her visitation (Luke 19:44). Zacharias prophesies that in John’s birth, God is visiting His people once again so that all the promises made to Abraham and the fathers would be fulfilled in the Messiah and His forerunner. All of this the Lord had spoken through His holy prophets since the world began, reaching as far back to Genesis 3:15 with the first gospel promise of Christ.

4)         Zacharias continues: That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. The point of this long foretold visitation is the same as every other visitation of the Lord in the Old Testament: the salvation of Israel from her enemies. Israel’s enemies, however, were not Egypt and Assyria, Babylon and Rome. Her enemies were sin, death, and the power of the devil. The pagan nations were simple physical manifestations of the Devil’s power and were often used as punishments for Israel’s sin. Israel’s sin and the power of the devil often made it seem as if God would not fulfill His promises to Abraham. Just as God’s visitation upon Israel in Egypt happened after centuries of slavery, so this visitation occurred after 400 years of silence from God, Malachi being the last divinely-inspired prophet to Israel.

5)         Because of this visitation of the coming Messiah Israel would now be delivered from the hand of their enemies and serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness of the days of their lives. Being delivered from the hand of sin, from the terror of death, and from the power of the devil, they would no longer fear God. The Messiah would bring peace with God through atoning for the sin of the world and bestowing the blessings of that atonement upon all who believe. No longer would consciences have to fear God’s wrath and the threat of punishment for their sins, for God was now providing a once-for-all remedy for the sins of all mankind, so that everyone might look to that remedy and by believing the remedy, receive it and be justified by that belief. Through faith in the promised Messiah, His perfect righteousness would be given to sinners, counted to them as their own righteousness, even as Abraham believed God and that faith was counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). The Messiah puts an end to fearing God’s wrath and punishment by taking it upon Himself and enduring the pangs of Hell though He was without sin. The fear of God must be driven out of the heart so that God can fill the heart with love for God, for love cannot exist simultaneously with terror of conscience. The uncleanness of sin must be purified and cleansed by faith, which receives Christ holiness as one’s own.

6)         Zacharias concludes his prophetic song with these words: And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace. John’s preaching will prepare for Christ’s teaching of the Gospel. John’s preaching will give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins! Zacharias understands, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that sin is the greatest enemy of mankind, the sin is the thing which must be forgiven and guilt must be removed through the tender mercy of God. This is the point of God’s visitation of His people: the forgiveness of their sins. John’s work will be that of the Law, pointing out people’s sins so that they are ready to receive the Gospel about the forgiveness of their sins. The bitter medicine of the Law is necessary to swallow in order to receive the visitation of God in human flesh in a right manner. The clear light of the Baptist’s preaching of repentance will momentarily blind those who sit in the darkness of the shadow of death, those who have become used to the darkness of their sins and its consequences. But repentance is necessary, for it is the way of peace with God, so that the repentant can then be justified by faith.

7)         Zacharias, and John later in his life, prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Messiah, both in the manger and on the Last Day. Christ does not arrive in a cattle shed to give us the sentimental peace of Christmas carols and soft lights. Zacharias keeps our hearts on what his own son, and God’s Only-Begotten Son will do in the days of their ministries. St. Luke writes that the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judea, all those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. So we who are of the Texas Hill Country ought to do the same, treasure this miracle in our hearts. But not only the miracle of the return of speech, but the speech itself that Zacharias utters by God’s Holy Spirit. His song, the Benedictus, focuses our hearts in the next days, so that we receive God’s visitation with joy over the forgiveness of sins and thanksgiving that in Christ Jesus, ALL God’s promises are true and remain true throughout eternity. Amen.

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